Oct. 27, 2005
By Jason Cohn
The Santa Clara
The news about Santa Clara sports just keeps getting better this fall as the men's golf team is off to its best start in school history.
Led by a veteran core of seniors -- John Colyar, Eric Lillibridge, Michael Nicoletti and the solid play of junior Jong Yoon and sophomore Tim Lynch, the Bronco golf team won their first two tournaments of the season before placing second to the Broncos of Boise State in this week's Santa Clara Invitational at Silver Creek Country Club in San Jose.
"Our team has been together for a couple of years so we trust in each other to work hard and go out there and win," team captain Michael Nicoletti said.
So far this season, Nicoletti has been an inspiration for his teammates, finishing in the top five individually in his last two tournaments, and is currently one of two players on the team who is ranked in the top 150 individuals nationally.
The other top-ranked player is Eric Lillibridge who has been hot since the season opener in Layton, Utah where he shot a -7 for the tournament and finished third in the individual competition.
"This year, all of us have been working well together and pumping each other up to win as a team," said Lillibridge, who does not seem at all concerned about individual accolades.
Both Lillibridge and Nicoletti are quick to point out that their success this season has been further enhanced by first-year head coach Rob Miller.
In his first season coaching the team, Miller has already led the Broncos to a No. 42 national ranking, the highest in Santa Clara's history.
"We're all driven to play good golf. Coach Miller is not forcing it on us at all. He just lets us play and have fun and doesn't dwell on the bad shots we make," Lillibridge said.
This approach of positive reinforcement and good communication has allowed Miller's team to gain a level of confidence that has raised the team's play significantly since practice began earlier in the school year.
"I don't put a lot of pressure on them because they put enough pressure on themselves," Miller said. "They're playing a lot looser and having a good deal more fun which has absolutely shown up in their attitude and their play on the course."
Confidence has steadily been an important issue to Miller from the beginning, and that's why winning the team's first two tournaments has been very important to him as far as the team's focus is concerned.
"Golf is such a huge mental game and when you go out and win your first two tournaments of the year, it reinforces everything you've done and gets everyone on the same page," Miller said.
Yet he does admit that his style may be a little unorthodox.
"It's unusual the way we've done things this season. Assistant coach Bill Johnson works with the guys on any adjustments and fine tuning with their swing and I take care of all the communication and organization that's needed to run things smoothly."
Part of the organizational aspect that has been especially important is the team's practice schedule. Miller has coordinated a schedule where the team does not practice their play on the same golf course twice this fall.
The idea is that the team gets as comfortable as possible playing on courses that they've never seen before, which has resulted in the team winning both of the tournaments that they've played away from home so far this season.
What is even more impressive about the team's 2-0 record on the road this year is that before this season, the team had not won a single tournament outside of the South Bay area since 1999.
Team captain Nicoletti is excited with the challenging practice schedule.
"Coach has done an excellent job of getting us prepared to play by getting us on the best courses around, which has made us feel prepared for any situation."
It's not just the seniors who are feeling confident and prepared this season, as Lillibridge points out.
Freshman Jonathan Keane is also making his mark on the team this year. In his collegiate debut this week, Keane shot a 217 for the tournament, earning him a sixth-place finish, only one stroke behind Bronco team-leader Nicoletti.
"The thing about our starting five is that we all get along well, we all work together and we all want to win," Lillibridge said.
With all of their early-season success, the team is focusing their sights on places Santa Clara golf has never been to.
"The short-term goal is for the guys to feel like they had a successful season and I think that means winning the West Coast Conference and going to regionals -- and in my opinion, both of those are very achievable," said Miller.
If Santa Clara men's golf manages to make it to regional play, it will be for the first time in school history. The good news for Miller is that this is shaping up to be a season full of firsts.